How authentic are cars nowadays? I’m hard pressed to even think of asking such a question, when authenticity comes from its makers.
And if we really get to the Mariana Trench of it all, the root starts with people - the least authentic beings on the planet. Therefore, we can also assume that the MINI Countryman is a bit of a paradox. For starters, I think that MINI is the most British brand of them all. I know we have Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin, Jaguar, and Land Rover to name a few, but neither of them really capitalized on flying the Union Jack on their cars. MINI as a brand, is as British as Jeep is American. However, we all know today that MINI is owned by BMW, which makes it inadvertently German.
You can see this in the build quality and if you have a keen eye, there’s a lot of BMW loot scattered around the cabin. Also, MINI once made cars that you could slot into a parking space in one motion, and it didn’t really matter if you were doing it perpendicular or parallel. They were so tiny, that the space allotment was totally irrelevant. Turn the wheel, and slot it into place. That’s not the case with the Countryman. Well, with the right options, this thing can park itself just like most upscale cars today can. Except parking it in one motion is no longer as simple as it used to be.
This is such, because the Countryman is huge. Its predecessor was already too big for a MINI badge, and the size of this new one is downright rebellious. They say that the Countryman is their take on an SUV, but one glance at it, and it’s more Volvo Cross Country than BMW X3. I also never genuinely liked the any other model of MINI other than the traditional 3-door Cooper, preferably in S or JCW trim. Every other thing they’re making other than that is MINI’s participation in joining the we-build-a-car-for-every-kind-of-person party.
When I think of MINI, I only really think about the Cooper. It's no different from when I think of Japan. Sushi comes to mind. The recall of the brand and that particular car is even far more powerful than what the Beetle is to Volkswagen. This is such, because for a very long time, that’s all MINI was really known for - and that’s why the world desired one. Those peppy Union Jack wearing cars were the very essence of MINI. Nonetheless, they have a wide range of automobiles today and the Countryman is the least MINI-est, well, as far as dimensions go. Maybe size really does matter?
For the Countryman to be a success, it must have all the hallmarks of the great Cooper but with the requirements of the new generation, in which they would like an automobile that does it all. Has the Countryman pulled it off? In my eyes, yes. I so badly want to say no, but I can’t get over how great this ‘SUV’ is. For starters, in its heart is a diesel power plant - perhaps the most unbecoming characteristic of a peppy MINI.
However, the engine is so ridiculously potent and unbelievably frugal, you’d have to be a real idiot to not pick the diesel engine. It’s forgivable for two reasons. The first being that, if you wanted a real MINI, you should’ve gotten the Cooper S. The second being that since you’ve picked a MINI that can do it all, might as well get the one with great propulsion that’s kind to your bank account. There’s even a more potent one that you get in SD trim.
The Countryman is grown up on the outside. The design doesn’t seem to float everyone’s boat, but it appeals to me. It’s a much better design than the model it replaces. Those square off headlights make it look less overweight than it should. And speaking of headlights, it’s equipped with adaptive LEDs that burn through the darkness brighter the sunlight. You’ll appreciate it best when you drive out of town. The rest of the exterior bits aren’t as impressive, being that this is the base diesel variant.
To really celebrate the MINI-ness of it all, you should really go for the SD version since they’re locally available with better wheels, better trim, and some lovely stripes that make it even more juvenile. My biggest gripe is with the run-flat tires. You can tell that there’s a decent amount of absorption from the suspension, but that’s little help when you have rocks for tires. They’re also unnecessarily noisy on the smoothest of surfaces and it drones the cabin at 85 km/h. And that is really annoying.
"All 330 Newton Meters of torque come in so low in the rev range, you barely get the engine to work before you’ve passed two cars on the highway."
The interior is where the MINI starts to shine. It’s so theatrically juvenile, it makes up for the blandness fo the exterior trim. It has all the hallmarks that we’ve come to love about the brand and produces a wonderful sense of occasion. It feels bespoke and special at under 3 million bucks. The brain of the car is controlled by BMW’s iDrive system, except it’s on some MDMA laced with LSD. It’s as psychedelic as can be, and the interior party lights only increase the hit. I love the toggle switches and how the engine start toggle has a beating red light before you fire up its heart.
Even with its fancy and retro approach, everything in the cabin is ergonomically sound thanks to BMW, once again. This Countryman is aimed towards a relatively younger market, as is the entire range of MINI. The size of the font on the dashboard is a telling sign of this. As far as MINIs go, the interior space is gargantuan. I stand at 6’2, and I could sit comfortably behind the driver’s seat with my driving position untouched. The audio system is pretty decent too. I love how snug the seats are and how they never seem to be uncomfortable after long drives out of town. I’m starting to think that this is the perfect MINI for someone my size.
The portion where MINI have nailed the Countryman to perfection is in the driving experience. We all know that when a brand makes a car out of its ethos, they’re usually quite horrible. Imagine how awful a Land Rover roadster would be. However in this, I cannot complain at all. It drives so close to how a Cooper does, albeit on stilts. It’s pretty amazing because you can enter and exit corners are decently high speed, and the Countryman doesn’t even break a sweat.
It pulls hard too, and shaves off speed just as well. It feels light on its feet despite the extra weight. Even more amazing is that you can drive like a complete fool, and struggle to drain all that diesel. All 330 Newton Meters of torque come in so low in the rev range, you barely get the engine to work before you’ve passed two cars on the highway.
"I struggled to frown while driving it, because who’s ever upset when they’re inside their playroom?"
I’m quite enthralled by the new Countryman D. It possesses all that I love about the 3-door Cooper, but with limitless versatility. It is easily the second best MINI that the brand sells today, because its range of capabilities are vast. Even in this base diesel trim, it manages to look and feel very upscale - a rare feat in most entry level variants. You never feel short changed, but it also keeps you longing for a higher variant. The sweet spot for those who are willing to pay the extra damage, is the Countryman SD. The better trim and more advanced toys will only add to a better experience. Plus, the extra power, which you don’t really need. I mean, who says no to extra power, right?
As for me, the biggest selling point of something like this is the amount of smiles it produces for you. I struggled to frown while driving it, because who’s ever upset when they’re inside their playroom? MINI is the happiest brand in the automotive industry, and in a time where negativity sits front and center of mainstream media, it’s great to have a natural boost of happiness for the moments in the day that we find ourselves inside a car. In this apocalyptic traffic that we have in Manila, trust me on this, sitting inside a MINI rejuvenates the soul and frees up the child within us - and this time, you can share the experience with more people in absolute comfort. This is a fantastic MINI.